As I write this, we are entering the desert of Lent. A dark Lent it looks to be indeed in the Church. Every day, it seems, there are more revelations of betrayal and crimes committed by the hierarchy worldwide. Australian Cardinal Pell is sentenced to six years in prison, convicted of sexual assault of two choirboys. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is found guilty by a French court of covering up sexual abuse by one of his priests. The bishops’ summit in Rome on the protection of minors is being reported as a dismal failure. It wasn’t the devil that made them do it, as Pope Francis suggested, but rather, writes Jamie Manson in the National Catholic Reporter, “These men destroyed [the Church] all by themselves by enforcing a warped view of sexuality, making the preservation of their patriarchal rule their first priority and trading in cover-ups , lies and institutional blackmail.”
Sick to death of this rot poisoning the institutional Church, I have never been so tempted to leave. I find I cannot bring myself to go to Mass. I am not alone in this. A survey last year by America found that a majority of American Catholic women are disengaging from the Church, especially young women. Jessica Mesman Griffith, for example, recently wrote of her own estrangement in the blog Sick Pilgrim: “When I realize trauma therapy has become a kind of religious practice for me, I miss church. I am every bit as lost as all the churchy folk warned I would be without it. But I cannot bring myself over the threshold.” I too miss church. For consolation, I read the psalms. On Shrove Tuesday, one takes aim and hits the mark of my heart. I went about as one who laments for a mother, bowed down and in mourning. And yet, as I mourn, words from Isaiah come to mind: I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
The prophet speaks for God: I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Something is happening here. Michael Higgins, in the first column of this forum, “A Catholicism Under Siege,” wrote that we are in “a Kairos moment.” Kairos: one dictionary defines it as “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment.” To say this is Kairos time, a Kairos moment, is to say that we must act, with wisdom, before it is too late and the moment has passed.
I keep coming across this idea of Kairos time. Marybeth Chuey Bishop engages it creatively in “Doing the Time Warp at 2 a.m.,” an entry to her blog In Ordinary Time that revisits Rocky Horror Picture Show’s song Time Warp (“It’s astounding! Time is fleeting!”). Unable to sleep, she pulls out her grandmother’s rosary as a soporific. The rosary is broken, which leads Bishop to reflect: the beads take us in a “predictable circle” of the life of Jesus. “But what if it’s broken? What if the end doesn’t come back to the beginning in a stable, but is able to spiral through time, Kairos time instead of Chronos? What if it reached … all the way here?”
Last fall I felt I had a glimpse of Kairos time at a symposium for the Catholic Women Speak Network in Rome, which was held to coincide with the Vatican’s Synod on Youth. Catholic women gathered together from all over the world, working to make women’s voices heard in the Church. Some of us were on a panel about sexuality, abuse and power. Like Higgins, Nontando Hadebe, a South African theologian, called for “radical change,” said this was a Kairos moment, like apartheid, time to take a stand. “God is a God of new things!” she proclaimed. “We want a radical reconstruction! We need to be having visions of what a Church looks like that doesn’t look like anything we know!” Hadebe had ideas: We must not look away from this abyss in the Church, “a culture of toxic brotherhood that comes at the expense of women and children.” There must be communal action by the bishops, a time of sackcloth and ashes, with every Catholic church and seminary shut down. All the Church is to speak out, as part of a prophetic theology, especially the marginalized voices of women: a Church that doesn’t look like anything we know… now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Jennifer Reek is a writer and teacher.